A couple's decision to buy a home together is likely to be the largest financial commitment they will make and should signal a period of settled happiness.
However, those who purchase a property as cohabitees must realise that they do not have the same rights as those of a married couple or in a civil partnership – and this could have a significant impact upon the division of assets if things turn sour.
It has long been a priority of lawyers to warn of the need for greater awareness of the lack of legal protection for unmarried couples and this is imperative when it comes to property ownership by cohabitees.
It may be a second or third relationship for a more mature couple, or a young partnership taking their first step onto the property ladder, but there will be millions of unmarried couples who decide to pool resources and buy a home. The problems come further down the line, if the relationship breaks down.
If there is no legal agreement entered into at the outset, when the property is purchased, then things can become extremely messy, with no accounting for either side of the partnership contributing more. Taking the deposit as an example – one member of the couple could have given the lion’s share, it could have been gifted by a relative, mum or dad perhaps, or it could be inheritance from a loved one. But if the couple part, there is no legal right for the asset to be divided in a way that reflects the contributions made unless appropriate steps have been taken at the time of purchase.
In our experience, this has caused problems over, and over, again – not only in terms of the financial issues, but also in pouring fuel on what can be a complicated and tense situation.
Obtaining thorough legal advice on how a jointly owned property should be held (joint tenants or tenants in common) and, if necessary, entering into a legally-binding ‘Declaration of Trust’ will ensure certainty, and is perhaps something parents should insist on if they are gifting a deposit? This declaration confirms the beneficial ownership of a property in the proportions contributed and protects the interests of those who have contributed.
To discuss this in further detail, Sally Wright can be contacted on 01472 246681 or visit wilkinchapman.co.uk
Or, to find out more about the legialities of moving home, visit our dedicated page here.